Wildfire pilots praise pond-filling family

Nov. 23, 2016: When helicopters fighting wildfires took the water from a backyard pond in Walland, the family ran several hoses from their home to help keep the water supply replenished for fire crews.

WALLAND - Army National Guard helicopter pilots desperately fighting wildfires in Blount County will grab water from any safe source they can find.  That came as a surprise to the Chesney family in Walland when Blackhawk helicopters repeatedly swooped in and swiped thousands of gallons of water from their backyard pond.

"The helicopters started coming in on Monday.  It would take the helicopter four minutes to get the water, drop it on the fire, and come back again," said Larry Chesney.  "We just stocked that pond with fish a couple of weeks ago, so I guess those fish are somewhere up on the mountain."

"We'll definitely never forget it.  When the helicopter flies in, you get behind a pole or a tree because it will almost knock you down with the wind and the water spray.  I got wet and sandblasted at the same time," said Hilda Martin Chesney, who built their large home on farmland owned by her family for more than a century.

Rather than react angrily at the surprise of helicopters siphoning from the sky, the Chesneys viewed it as an opportunity to contribute.

"We thought we might need to replenish the pond because it was almost dry," said Larry Chesney.  "We ran a bunch of hoses from the house to the pond and turned them on full blast.  They've been running non-stop since Monday.  As long as they [the pilots] wanted to keep getting water here, we wanted to do anything we could to help."

Helicopter pilots with the 1-230th Army National Guard said the Chesneys' reaction is one of the most generous they've ever encountered.

"It is definitely a first for me," said pilot BJ Koons.  "I mean, most people wouldn't want us to dry their pond out.  In this situation, there's a lot of land up here on fire.  There are houses at stake.  Them running water hoses to the pond really helped out a lot.  This pond is a few minutes closer than our other main source at Perry's Mill Dam.  Getting water from here saved a lot of time and gas, so we can drop more buckets to help fight the fire."

Colonel Patrick Wade said the Chesneys should be rewarded by the community and the state.

"It helped to save several cabins from burning down," wrote Col. Wade.

While a few garden hoses may be a relative drop in the bucket when fighting a large wildfire, the Chesneys' cup runneth over with appreciation from air crews.

"We didn't know how much it meant to them," said Larry Chesney.  "We're just glad they could use the water in our pond and we could be of any help."

"It's wonderful, I wish that there was more water in the pond that they could keep using it," said Hilda Chesney.  "It was great to meet one of the pilots. I joked and asked him if he did windows because the helicopter has blown water and dirt all over the windows on our house."

Larry Chesney said their home gets its water from the Tuckaleechee Utility District.  He contacted the utility company, which thanked him for helping firefighters and said it will work with him on what is expected to be a very large water bill.


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